Sunday, July 18, 2004

The New York Times > Week in Review > Israel's Wall: Giving Up on Peace

The New York Times > Week in Review > Israel's Wall: Building for Calm by Giving Up on Peace:
"Inside the 'War Room,' as it is informally called, Israeli soldiers gaze at banks of computer and television screens. What they see are images of the wall or fence or barrier - it is all these things in different places - that is transforming the physical and mental landscape of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Their job is to stop anyone crossing the barrier and so make Israel safer.

An officer shows off the gadgetry: night-vision cameras trained 24 hours a day on a barrier loaded with electronic gizmos that signal the precise location of anyone who touches it, ensuring that Israeli forces reach the area within two to eight minutes to stop the sort of infiltration of Palestinian suicide bombers that brought nearly 100 Israeli deaths in March 2002 alone.

The barrier, destined to run over 430 miles, from the northern West Bank to its southern rim, with numerous protrusions into the area, has become an article of faith for these soldiers and officers. It is an effective tool, they say, not a political statement. Projected to cost well over $1 billion, it works and must be completed.…"

So when the International Court of Justice in The Hague rules that the barrier is illegal, or when Israel's Supreme Court says its planned path must be changed, many Israelis shrug. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's insistence that the barrier is necessary for self-defense finds a generally sympathetic domestic reception.

Opinions diverge on the reasons for the precipitous fall in Palestinian bombings this year. Is the intifada exhausted after almost four years? Was Yasir Arafat cowed by the Israeli killing of Hamas leaders? Did the removal of those leaders throw Palestinian militants into disarray? Have the ceaseless patrols by more than 12,000 Israeli soldiers in the West Bank blocked attacks?

Perhaps each theory has its share of truth. But whoever espouses these ideas also tends to see the barrier as an effective, additional guarantee of some semblance of normal life in Israel. Sure, the price is high - the defeat of hope - but so be it.

What often seems to be missing from these Israeli musings is any grasp of the life of the Palestinians on the other side of the barrier. On those war-room screens the most common sight is a Palestinian in a donkey cart trundling along a dirt track. The contrast between the high-tech Israeli cameras that deliver these images and the abject existence of the Palestinians photographed provides an apt summation of the divergence of the societies: a first-world Israel forging ahead as best it can, a third-world Palestinian society going backward.

To move through the West Bank today is to witness the growth of parallel networks. Israelis drive on highways to settlements spreading like garrisons on hills. Palestinians are increasingly confined to dirt tracks beside these roads.

Nowhere is this separation more evident than between Qalqilya and the adjacent West Bank town of Hable. After building the fence around three sides of the towns, the Israeli authorities realized that the two places depended on each other. So now the army is building tunnels under the fence, to be used by Palestinians.
con·cept: The New York Times > Week in Review > Israel's Wall: Giving Up on Peace